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Confidence in Myself as a Writer: Grace is Gone by Emily Elgar

Emily Elgar © 24 February 2020.
Posted in the Magazine ( · Crime · Interviews ).

Before I signed a contract with Little, Brown in 2014 I was fairly quiet about my writing – talking about it only in the vaguest terms with my friends and family – and I’m not known for my privacy. I’m one of those people who has to share and expel what ever is going on in order to make sense of the world. So when my life trajectory changed as I scribbled the same signature I’ve used since I was sixteen on that piece of legal paper it felt even more surreal because I was yet to ‘out’ myself as an author. I think I kept it quiet because the journey from writing to signing with my fantastic agent Nelle Andrew, to going out on submission to publishers felt like such a delicate process, a house of cards where one false move, one flick of the wrist and the whole thing could come tumbling down.

It was like holding my breath when something scary is about to happen in a film and then realising slowly that that thing isn’t going to happen after all and slowly, like a balloon deflating releasing the air from my lungs. I don’t mean to imply I wasn’t ecstatic – I was utterly thrilled – but I also felt a sense of reverence, a responsibility in my new role as ‘author’. I was desperate to be – and terrified that I would fail to be – ‘good enough’.

My wonderful editor Lucy Malagoni loved the concept of my first novel – If You Knew Her – but she signed me on the proviso that we would work together, for as long as it would take, to rewrite the entire manuscript. It was a gruelling, sometimes painful and very steep learning curve.

Luckily, I realised fairly early that whether I was ‘good enough’ was entirely subjective and out of my hands. So I did the only thing I could do. I locked myself away from the world and I wrote. I wrote at 3am and I wrote at 8pm. I wrote on trains, in hotel bathrooms and on ironing boards. I wrote whenever and wherever the words were with me. It was when the words left me that I struggled. Growing up with a strong protestant work ethic – that a good days work must be eight hours sitting behind a desk – was doing me no favours. I’d find myself staring, dull eyed at my screen squeezing a few words out of my brain and deleting them immediately. It took me a long time to learn that often I write better in short, intense periods of a couple of hours than when I feel I must be kept chained to the blank screen for a whole day. I developed a mantra – ap promise to myself to ‘manage my energy and not my time’ which has been tattooed on my eyelids ever since.

Between my fist and second novel there is ‘novel 1.5’. I wrote 40,000 words of a novel that try as I might, I simply couldn’t make work. It was hard to walk away from all that time, energy and investment. I went on a long, long walk on my own. I cried. I got a bit angry. But when I got home I made myself a cup of tea and sat down again. A bit like breaking up from a bad relationship, I had to exorcise myself so that when I chanced upon the story of Gypsy Rose Blanchard and her mother DeeDee – I was ready for a new story to sweep me off my feet. Theirs is a traumatic, strange tale of twisted love and revenge and the inspiration for my second novel, Grace is Gone. That same evening I wrote a one page synopsis which Nelle sent to Lucy and two months later I was again signing a contract with Little, Brown.

Whilst I felt better equipped, more experienced writing Grace is Gone it was my personal life that changed the experience this time around. About 6 weeks into writing I found out I was pregnant with our much longed for first baby. Suddenly there was a very real ticking clock in my stomach. I had just eight months to write the book whilst also riding the waves of nausea, hormone spikes and insomnia that pregnancy bought with it – joy oh joy!

Having learnt so much about the craft of writing in those months (and months and months) of rewriting my first novel I was much more confidant writing my second. It was as though I’d rubbed my eyes and suddenly that which had been blurry was in sharp focus. I knew when a scene was working or not, I could tell when dialogue sounded clunky. I think it was this confidence in myself as well as a confidence in the idea (thank you novel 1.5!) that meant I sent Grace is Gone to my publishers a week before the deadline.

Now I’m working on a third novel and I’m trying – deep breath – to keep myself open to whatever hard earned lessons the experience will bring with it…

(c) Emily Elgar

Author Photo (c) Adam Luszniak

About Grace is Gone by Emily Elgar:

A heart-stopping new psychological thriller from international bestseller, Emily Elgar, inspired by a shocking true-life story

Meg and her daughter Grace are the most beloved family in Ashford, the lynchpin that holds the community together.

So when Meg is found brutally murdered and her daughter missing, the town is rocked by the crime. Not least because Grace has been sick for years – and may only have days to live.

Who would murder a mother who sacrificed everything, and take a teenager away from the medication that could save her life? Everyone is searching for an answer, but sometimes the truth can kill you . . .

‘Grips to the very last page – a tense, twisted tale’ T.M. Logan, bestselling author of THE HOLIDAY

‘I was completely hooked’ Heidi Perks, bestselling author of NOW YOU SEE HER

Order your copy online here.

Originally from the Cotswolds, Emily Elgar studied at Edinburgh University and then worked for a non-profit organization providing support services to sex workers in the UK. She went on to complete the novel writing course at the Faber Academy in 2014. She currently lives in East Sussex with her husband. Emily's first novel was If You Knew Her.